Ita Buttrose named Australian of the Year

Ita Buttrose ... Australian of the Year 2013.
Ita Buttrose ... Australian of the Year 2013.

It's Ita. Former copy girl, journalist, famous lisper, editor-extraordinaire. The woman who, as editor of the Australian Women's Weekly, liked to catch the bus to work because bus trips were an excellent time to read and touch up nail polish. The lady - because she is a real lady - whose brains and strength of character saw her become the first female appointment to the News Ltd board (she said she "often felt lonely"). The single working mother who rejoiced when retail trading hours were extended in 1984 because it had been such a terrible rush, cramming all that kid-ferrying and shopping into short Saturday mornings.

She is both one of us and the best of us. Members of the media are not often accused of good works but Ita Buttrose, named Australian of the Year for 2013, has used her enormous profile to commit indutibly worthy acts far nobler than her profession.

She is the National President of Alzheimer's Australia and the Vice President Emeritus of Arthritis Australia. She raises awareness of breast cancer, HIV/AIDS and prostate cancer.

The founding editor of Cleo, which Australian girls still love, she is a true role model to women and girls, in a world where that word is de-valued.

We've only had 10 and a quarter female Australians of the Year since the award began in 1960 (the quarter represents Judith Durham, one of the four members of The Seekers, the folk band which won the award in 1967).

There hadn't been a female winner since Fiona Wood in 2005, and it was time, some people have been saying.

Buttrose would probably take that. She has always worn her womanhood lightly, despite suffering the "open antagonism" of many male editors in her long career. She took on board the early advice of Kerry Packer: "Love your enemies. It drives them mad".

Buttrose was joined on the podium by Emeritus Professor Ian Maddocks, who won Senior Australian of the Year 2013. A renowned palliative care specialist, Professor Maddocks's work in helping the dying complements his work in preventing senseless deaths by conflict - he is a leader in national and international associations of physicians for the prevention of war.

The Young Australian of the Year 2013 is 25-year-old mentor Akram Azimi, an Afghan refugee kid who was ostracised when he started schoool in Western Australia 13 years ago. He became his school's head boy and now he's triple-majoring in law, science and arts at university. So he belongs now, but he hasn't forgotten what it felt like not to belong, which is why he also mentors marginalised young Indigenous people in remote communities.

The Local Hero award went to Indigenous community leader Shane Phillips, born and raised in Redfern. He has done remarkable work in juvenile justice and Aboriginal deaths in custody, and has worked to improve relations with police and decrease robberies by Indigenous youths.

Earlier, at an official lunch held in the Gandell Hall at the National Gallery of Australia, within cooee of the Aboriginal burial poles and the Sidney Nolans and the Arthur Streetons, outgoing Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush paid moving tribute to the "pluck and progessive thinking, the hardiness and vision" of Australians.

He talked of the "continuing opal-coloured definition of what we are and who we will be in 2013". Opals diffract light. We have an abundance of that in this country.

This story Ita Buttrose named Australian of the Year first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.